Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More expensive wine?

Bigger Than Your Head is disputing Wine Enthusiast's claim that wine is getting cheaper.

Here's what he says:

So, the issue doesn’t seem to be that prices for wine are going down, but that better wine is available in the $10 niche (or $15 or $20). It’s true that if one bottle of wine costs $10 and another costs $50, the average price is $30, while if four bottles of wine cost $10 and one bottle costs $50, the average price is $18. Those figures add up to more cheap wine on the market on average but not decreasing prices for wine in general. Of course Strum is writing in Wine Enthusiast’s “Special Value Issue,” so he has a bit of an ax to grind, and there’s not a thing wrong with that; it’s his magazine, and many terrific inexpensive wines are reviewed in this issue. I mean, I like to discover a great little cheap wine as much as the next person does.

Anyway, I disagree that inexpensive wines are necessarily getting better; some $10 and $11 wines from Australia actually aren’t as good now as they were 10 years ago; the specter of sameness and anonymity has fallen upon them. I do agree that we need to look to Spain, southern Italy and Argentina for the best values in cheap wines.

I don't have a copy of the editorial, but I think I'll go get one.

Hmm...WE says quality is rising. How subjective is that? What does that mean? More bottles are scored above 90 than ever before? Its easier to get a 90pt bottle for $12 than it used to be? The argument has long been made that scores are inflated, so if the score is inflated than the price is inflated too. If yesterday's 85pt wine is today's 90pt wine, then paying $12 for a 90 pt wine 5 years ago is like paying $12 for an 85pt wine today.

The truth is more likely that the 90pt wine of 5 years ago is now a 93pt wine with a price of $20, and the 85pt'er is $12 and basking in the glow of an inflated score. I didn't get any better wine for the price, likely I got the same wine for more, and the only increase in quality was the thrill I got from drinking a "highly rated" wine.


Fredric Koeppel said...

Ha, well-put, 3rd Coast. Of course magazines like WE and WS have a stake in the ratings numbers game. It's all about keeping the balance between objectivity and advertising, though thankfully the Enthusiast hasn't become the slick lifestyle manager that the Spectator has turned into.

Terence said...

I like your characterization of WS, Fredric. More than the predictability of the scores, the encroaching lifestyle crap was what induced me to stop subscribing. Every issue was like sitting around the country club in Fairlawn, Ohio...[gagging sounds]

Arthur said...

I think that in the scope of the last 3 to 4 decades, wine quality might have truly improved. Clark Smith alludes to this in rather lengthy but good essay:

At the same time, it is undeniable that there has been an upward creep in wine scores.

I would contend that the character that these higher scores tend elicit is actually worse. The very traits that tend to earn higher scores for a wine are actually these wines' shortcomings.

Arthur Przebinda